Today, April 18th 2017 marks the 75th Anniversary of one of the most daring feats in aviation history: The Doolittle Raid. Led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, 16 heavily modified Mitchell bombers left the deck of the USS Hornet and struck targets from Tokyo to Yokohama, before continuing to the mainland and bailing over China and Russia. This act of bravery on the part of the crews would cement their place in history and earn their fearless commander the Medal of Honor.
The raid was initially desired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who hoped to boost flagging American morale following Pearl Harbor. Rather than specifically accomplish a military task, the raid was intended to sow fear and confusion among the civilian population, as well as to inspire American troops battling in the Pacific theatre.
The task of planning and conducting the attack was given to James “Jimmy” Doolittle, a man of exceptional skill who was famed as both a test pilot and an aeronautical engineer. After initial planning, it was determined that the yet untested Mitchell bomber was to be heavily modified and utilized. A second fuel tank was added, and all unnecessary parts were stripped away. The ball turret was removed, and in the end each bomber retained only two .50 caliber guns and a .30 caliber turret for defense. Each bomber was to carry four 500 pound bombs with which they would strike their targets.
After several weeks of practicing on the deck of a carrier painted on a runway, Doolittle felt that the crews were ready and the mission was set into motion. The aircraft were loaded onto the flight deck of the Hornet and tied down in flight order. Out in the deep ocean, the carrier rendezvoused with the famed USS Enterprise, who’s fighters, support cruisers, and destroyers would provide cover and support for the attack.
After being seen by a Japanese patrol vessel, which was subsequently sunk by indirect fire from one of the escorting destroyers, Doolittle decided to launch immediately. Though none of the pilots had ever taken off from a carrier before, all sixteen aircraft launched successfully and began to make their way towards Japan, flying just above the surface of the water to avoid detection. Within 6 hours, Japan was in sight. Many targets were hit, and the bold Americans took little ground fire. The bomber Whirling Dervish scored a victory against a Japanese fighter, destroying it with the turret gun.
With night rapidly approaching and the barometric pressure dropping, the crews made their way to China as quickly as possible, with the intention of either crash landing or bailing over the mainland. All crews made it safely to shore, losing only one man, Corporal Leland Faktor. Several crewmen were captured by Japanese forces, who would hold them prisoner for the remainder of the war.
Though he feared the raid a failure, America was thrilled with Doolittle’s raid. He was meritoriously promoted two grades to Brigadier General and received the Medal of Honor from FDR.
The Doolittle Raid continues to live on in the history of the United States as one of the greatest feats in the history of the US Army and the US Air Force. The individual bravery shown by the pilots was beyond compare, as was their immense skill in the operations of their craft. The officers and men of the raiders were and are men of great character and standing, and serve as examples of the type of leaders our men and women in the armed services strive to be.
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